What is meditation?
Meditation is a simple practice that can reduce stress, improve health, and increase happiness. It involves mental focus and relaxation.
Meditation helps you:
- Relax your body and mind
- Reduce stress and lower blood pressure
- Find peace of mind, clarity, inner strength, and self-confidence
- Improve concentration, memory, creativity, and intelligence
What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation is a great tool for relaxation, and as you get more experienced, it can also give you tools to manage stress and deal with anxiety. By clearing your mind of distractions, meditation helps you relax and focus. The effects aren’t just in your head: changing the way you breathe can help lower your blood pressure.
Here are some more benefits:
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep
- Decreased anxiety
Does meditation have side effects?
Meditation is not a trivial practice. While it’s possible to progress relatively quickly, it can be challenging, especially for beginners.
For some people, the longer they practice meditation the easier and more enjoyable it gets. For others, that’s not always the case—they might experience increasing difficulties along their path.
Even experienced practitioners are often challenged by their mental states while meditating, whether they experience boredom or agitation, or something else entirely.
Whatever you do, don’t give up! Meditation is potentially life-changing, but you won’t get there if you quit when things get difficult. If you really want to become skilled at meditation, then don’t stop just because it gets hard sometimes—that doesn’t mean your practice is wrong or broken in any way; it just means that you need to keep going so that you can reap meditation’s many benefits.”
Who can meditate?
While meditation is widely available to anyone, it’s important to keep in mind that there are various factors that may make it more difficult for some people to meditate. For example, you may find that you have difficulty focusing on your breathing when you have a cold or other physical ailments.
Likewise, while many people find that they can quiet their minds and focus better after a cup of coffee or tea, those with anxiety disorders should avoid the extra caffeine boost because it will likely only add to their existing stress and make them less able to sit still and clear their minds.
It’s also important for those with significant health concerns (cardiovascular problems, for instance) to consult with their doctors about whether meditation is right for them.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how beneficial meditation can be.
There are many positive effects of meditation on our bodies and minds. They include:
- Reduced stress
- Improved mental focus
- Increased creativity
- Improved productivity and decision-making
- Decreased anxiety
- Improved sleep quality and duration
- Lower blood pressure to normal levels (if you have high blood pressure)
- Improved memory retention and recall ability, which may help with learning new skills or languages more efficiently. This also makes it easier to stay focused when working on complex tasks that require a lot of concentration over long periods of time.
- Meditation can help you stay alert while doing routine tasks like driving through traffic or working at your computers all day long without getting distracted easily by distractions around you.
Start small, but start.
Start small. If you’ve never meditated before, don’t start by trying to do a 10-day silent meditation retreat in the desert with no food or water. Even starting at 5 minutes a day is fine. Any kind of progress is progress. And if you’re not sure how to begin, there are many good resources online and off that can help you get started.
There are plenty of guided meditations available on YouTube and other platforms that can help you learn what it feels like to be present and experience your breath without judgment or expectation.
You can also download popular meditation apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, Buddhify, Sattva Meditate & Chant, Breethe for Relaxation & Wellbeing, Aura Meditation Coach & Mood Tracker (for iOS), and Daily Yoga – Yoga Fitness Plan (for Android).
Find a quiet, comfortable place to meditate.
To practice meditation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can sit on the floor or on a chair; if you sit on the floor, you might try kneeling or sitting in a cross-legged position (also known as the lotus position). You can also lie down if that’s more comfortable for you. Just make sure your head is supported so your neck isn’t strained.
It’s best to meditate at a time of day when it’s relatively quiet and peaceful indoors. If it’s too noisy outside and inside, invest in earplugs to help block out sound. Some people like wearing socks to keep their feet warm and comfortable, but there are no rules about what to wear—just wear whatever makes you feel most relaxed.
Sit in a comfortable position.
It’s important to have a comfortable seat. If you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position, it’ll be harder to get into a good meditative state. If you’re more than six feet tall, sit with your legs out straight in front of you.
- Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position (either Indian style or with one leg tucked under you and the other bent at a right angle). You can put a blanket on the floor to sit on if you like, or use pillows or folded blankets as support for your back.
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your knees are lower than your hips so that your spine is supported by the chair back.
- Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you and lean back against support, like a wall or sofa cushions placed behind you.
- Sit on the floor with legs crossed and feet planted firmly on the chair seat so that your knees are lower than your hips when leaning back against the chair back.
Close your eyes.
Next, close your eyes. Meditation is about focusing on the internal world, so shutting out the light from the external world can be a useful way to help you concentrate. If you’re worried about this being exclusionary for people who are blind, don’t.
In fact, people who are blind can benefit especially from meditation as a training technique for re-sensitizing their body and mind to what they already know but might have forgotten—things like the spatial layout of their home or office space, or even their emotional states.
Even if you’re not blind and don’t have any trouble seeing, closing your eyes can help focus your attention inward. We use our eyes to take in information constantly: billboards while driving down the road; geese flying overhead; word searches in The Times; our children’s faces when we say something stupid during breakfast (me).
When we close our eyes and turn off this flow of images and information, it gives us time to reconnect with other senses we normally keep on mute: sounds that were always there but never quite registered before—like how much creaking happens in city buildings or how much wind goes through trees—and tactile sensations that we usually ignore because they feel familiar.
Pay attention to your breath.
When you begin meditating, pick something to focus on (like the word “in” or your breath).
- Breathe in and out through your nose. Feel the air move through your nostrils and into your body, making note of how this feels. If it helps, count as you breathe in and out, silently repeating a word or phrase that keeps you focused.
- It may help to pay attention to physical sensations in different parts of your body so that you can notice where your breathing occurs—the chest and shoulders moving means you are using shallow breathing instead of deep diaphragmatic breathing.
If a thought pops into your head, let it go and refocus on your breathing.
If a thought pops into your head—take notice of it, but don’t act on it. Just acknowledge that it is there and then let it go.
If you are thinking about what you will have for dinner later, or if you are doing a mindful meditation exercise where the goal is to focus on your breath, the best thing to do is not judge yourself. Thoughts come up, especially in meditation—it’s natural.
Don’t let an unproductive thought keep you from getting back to your breathing or meditation exercise. Just acknowledge whatever thoughts are coming up and then refocus on what you were doing.
Thoughts aren’t “bad”—they’re just thoughts!
Slowly return to the present moment.
- When you’re ready, slowly count to 10 in your mind.
- Let your awareness come back to the present moment.
- Take a deep breath, and feel the air on your skin.
- Feel your body in the space around you.
Wake up earlier and meditate first thing in the morning.
Meditation in the morning can be a great way to get your day off to a good start. It will help clear your mind and make you feel more aware of your thoughts and emotions. It’s important to start each day with a clear mind. You should try to meditate every morning when you wake up, or at least as often as possible.
If you want to incorporate meditation into your morning routine, try meditating for 5-10 minutes before doing anything else (including checking your phone). This will help set the tone for the rest of the day and allow you to think about what is important.
Try guided meditation.
Guided meditations – those in which a person’s voice leads you through the entire meditation, talking you through each step – are a good place to start. In guided meditations, you can be walked through every step of the process by an experienced teacher. Guided meditations are available for free on YouTube and other platforms, but some teachers also provide paid classes or guided meditation experiences.
Because guided meditations can help people with anxiety focus on their breathing and relaxation instead of drifting off into uncomfortable topics, they’re often recommended for people just starting out with meditation. They’re also great for people who want to work on specific areas of their life where they want to see improvement or growth (for example, working on gratitude or compassion).
Meditation is simple but not easy
Meditation is simple but not easy. Meditation functions like a lens through which you can become aware of the tranquility, wisdom, and compassion that already exist in your mind.
To use an analogy, think of the ocean. If you swim out to the open sea and lie on your back, your body will float effortlessly. There is no need to exert yourself; it requires very little effort to stay afloat because you are buoyed by all that water beneath you.
Like lying in the ocean, when we meditate on our own nature — our natural capacity for equanimity, wisdom, and compassion — we discover that these qualities are always there, underlying everything else. The practice of meditation is simply learning how to rest in this natural state, letting go of distraction, and settling into what is real.